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I have heard a great deal of preaching against Universalists, that did more harm than good, because the preachers did not understand how Universalists of the present day reason. When ministers undertake to oppose a present heresy, they ought to know what it actually is, at present. It is of no use to misrepresent a man's doctrines to his face, and then try to reason him out of them. He will say of you: "That man cannot argue with me on fair grounds; he has to misrepresent my doctrines in order to confute me." Great harm is done in this way. Ministers do not intend to misrepresent their opponents; but the effect of it is, that the poor miserable creatures who hold these errors go to hell because ministers do not take care to inform themselves what are their real errors. I mention this to show how much wisdom a minister must have to meet the cases that occur.
12. Ministers ought to know what measures are best calculated to aid in accomplishing the great end of their office, the salvation of souls. Some measures are plainly necessary. By measures, I mean the things which should be done to secure the attention of the people, and bring them to listen to the truth. Erecting buildings for worship, visiting from house to house, etc., are "measures," the object of which is to get the attention of people to the Gospel. Much wisdom is requisite to devise and carry forward all the various measures that are adapted to favor the success of the Gospel.
What do politicians do? They get up meetings, circulate handbills and pamphlets, blaze away in the newspapers, send ships about the streets on wheels with flags and sailors, send conveyances all over the town, with handbills, to bring people up to the polls - all to gain attention to their cause, and elect their candidate. All these are their "measures," and for their end they are wisely calculated. The object is to get up an excitement, and bring the people out. They know that unless there can be an excitement it is in vain to push their end. I do not mean to say that their measures are pious, or right, but only that they are wise, in the sense that they are the appropriate application of means to the end.
The object of the ministry is to get all the people to feel that the devil has no right to rule this world, but that they ought all to give themselves to God, and "vote in" the Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor of the universe.
Now, what shall be done? What measures shall we take? Says one: "Be sure and have nothing that is new." Strange! The object of our measure is to gain attention, and you must have something new. As sure as the effect of a measure becomes stereotyped, it ceases to give attention, and then you must try something new. You need not make innovations in everything. But whenever the state of things is such that anything more is needed, it must be something new, otherwise it will fail. A minister should never introduce innovations that are not called for. If he does, they will embarrass him. He cannot alter the Gospel; that remains the same. But new measures are necessary, from time to time, to awaken attention, and bring the Gospel to bear upon the public mind. And a minister ought to know how to introduce new things, so as to create the least possible resistance or reaction. Mankind are fond of form in religion. They love to have their religious duties stereotyped, so as to leave them at ease; and they are therefore inclined to resist any new movement designed to rouse them up to action and feeling. Hence it is all-important to introduce new things wisely, so as not to give needless occasion for resistance.
13. Not a little wisdom is sometimes needed by a minister to know when to put a stop to new measures. When a measure has novelty enough to secure attention to the truth, ordinarily no other new measure should be introduced. You have secured the great object of novelty. Anything more will be in danger of diverting the public mind away from the great object, and fixing it on the measures themselves. And then, if you introduce novelties when they are not called for, you will go over so large a field that, by and by, when you really want something new, you will have nothing else to introduce, without doing something that will give too great a shock to the public mind. The Bible has laid down no specific course of measures for the promotion of revivals of religion, but has left it to ministers to adopt such as are wisely calculated to secure the end. And the more sparing we are of our new things, the longer we can use them, to keep public attention awake to the great subject of religion. By a wise course this may undoubtedly be done for a long series of years, until our present measures will, by and by, have sufficient novelty in them again to attract and fix public attention. And so we shall never want for something new.
14. A minister, to win souls, must know how to deal with careless, with awakened, and with anxious sinners, so as to lead them right to Christ in the shortest and most direct way. It is amazing to see how many ministers there are who do not know how to deal with sinners, or what to say to them in their various states of mind. A good woman in Albany told me, that when she was under concern she went to her minister, and asked him to tell her what she must do to get relief. He said that God had not given him much experience on the subject, and advised her to go to a certain deacon, who perhaps could tell her what to do. The truth was, he did not know what to say to a sinner under conviction, although there was nothing peculiar in her case. Now, if you think this minister a rare case, you are quite deceived. There are many ministers who do not know what to say to sinners.
A minister once appointed an anxious meeting, which he duly attended, but instead of going round to speak to the individuals, he began to ask them the catechism question: "Wherein doth Christ execute the office of a priest?" About as much in point to a great many of their minds as anything else.
I know a minister who held an anxious meeting, and went to attend it with a written discourse, which he had prepared for the occasion. This was just as wise as it would be if a physician, going out to visit his patients, should sit down at leisure and write all the prescriptions beforehand. A minister needs to know the state of mind of individuals, before he can know what truth it will be proper and useful to administer. I say these things, not because I love to do it, but because truth and the object before me, require them to be said. And such instances as I have mentioned are by no means rare.
A minister should know how to apply truth to all the situations in which he may find dying sinners going down to hell. He should know how to preach, how to pray, how to conduct prayer meetings, and how to use all the means for bringing the truth of God to bear upon the kingdom of darkness. Does not this require wisdom? And who is sufficient for these things?
II. SUCCESS PROPORTIONATE TO WISDOM.
1. This is plainly asserted in the text. "He that winneth souls is wise."
That is, if a man wins souls, he does skillfully adapt means to the end, which is, to exercise wisdom. He is the more wise, by how much the greater is the number of sinners that he saves. A blockhead may, indeed, now and then, stumble on such truth, or such a manner of exhibiting it, as to save a soul. It would be a wonder indeed if any minister did not sometimes have something, in his sermons that would meet the case of some individual. But the amount of wisdom is to be decided, other things being equal, by the number of cases in which he is successful in converting sinners.
Take the case of a physician. The greatest quack may now and then stumble upon a remarkable cure, and so get his name up with the ignorant.
But sober and judicious people judge of the skill of a physician by the uniformity of his success in overcoming disease, the variety of diseases he can manage, and the number of cases in which he is successful in saving his patients. The most skillful saves the most. This is common sense. It is the truth. And it is just as true in regard to success in saving souls, and true in just the same sense.
2. This principle is not only asserted in the text, but it is a matter of fact, a historical truth, that "He that winneth souls is wise." He has actually employed means adapted to the end, in such a way as to secure the end.
3. Success in saving souls is evidence that a man understands the Gospel, and understands human nature; that he knows how to adapt means to his end; that he has common sense, and that kind of tact, that practical discernment, to know how to get at people. And if his success is extensive, it shows that he knows how to deal, in a great variety of circumstances, with a great variety of characters, who are all the enemies of God, and to bring them to Christ. To do this requires great wisdom.
And the minister who does it shows that he is wise.
4. Success in winning souls shows that a minister not only knows how to labor wisely for that end, but also that he knows where his dependence is.
Fears are often expressed respecting those ministers who are aiming most directly and earnestly at the conversion of sinners. People say: "Why, this man is going to work in his own strength; one would imagine he thinks he can convert souls himself." How often has the event showed that the man knew very well what he was about, and knew where his strength was, too.
He went to work to convert sinners so earnestly, just as if he could do it all himself; but that was the very way he should do. He ought to reason with sinners and plead with them, as faithfully and as fully as if he did not expect any interposition of the Spirit of God. But whenever a man does this successfully, it shows that, after all, he knows he must depend for success upon the Spirit of God alone.
There are many who feel an objection against this subject, arising out of the view they have taken of the ministry of Jesus Christ. They ask us: "What will you say of the ministry of Jesus Christ - was not He wise?"
I answer: "Yes, infinitely wise." But in regard to His alleged "want of success" in the conversion of sinners, you will observe the following things:
(a) That His ministry was vastly more successful than is generally supposed. We read in one of the sacred writers, that after His resurrection and before His ascension, "He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once" (1 Corinthians 15:6). If so many as five hundred brethren were found assembled together at one place, we judge that there must have been a vast number of them scattered over the country.
Consider, too, the peculiar design of His ministry. His main object was to make Atonement for the sins of the world. It was not aimed so much at promoting revivals. The "dispensation of the Spirit" was not yet given. He did not preach the Gospel so fully as His apostles did afterwards. The prejudices of the people were so fixed and violent that they would not bear it. That He did not, is plain from the fact that even His apostles, who were constantly with Him, did not understand the Atonement. They did not get the idea that He was going to die; and consequently, when they heard that He was actually dead, they were driven to despair, and thought the thing was all gone by, and their hopes blown to the winds. The fact was that He had another object in view, to which everything else was made to yield; and the perverted state of the public mind, and the obstinate prejudices prevailing, showed why results were not seen any more in the conversion of sinners. The state of public opinion was such that they finally murdered Him for what He did preach.
Many ministers who have little or no success are hiding themselves behind the ministry of Jesus Christ, as if He were an unsuccessful preacher.
Whereas, in fact, He was eminently successful, considering the circumstances in which He labored. This is the last place, in all the world, where a minister who has no success should think of hiding himself.
1. A minister may be very learned and yet not wise. There are many ministers possessed of great learning; they understand all the sciences, physical, moral, and theological; they may know the dead languages, and possess all learning, and yet not be wise in relation to the great end about which they are chiefly employed. Facts clearly demonstrate this. "He that winneth souls is wise."
2. An unsuccessful minister may be pious as well as learned, and yet not wise. It is unfair to infer that because a minister is unsuccessful, therefore he is a hypocrite. There may be something defective in his education, or in his mode of viewing a subject, or of exhibiting it, or such a want of common sense, as will defeat his labors, and prevent his success in winning souls, while he himself may be saved, "yet so as by fire."
3. A minister may be very wise, though he is not learned. He may not understand the dead languages, or theology in its common acceptation; and yet he may know just what a minister of the Gospel wants most to know, without knowing many other things. A learned minister, and a wise minister, are different things. Facts in the history of the Church in all ages prove this. It is very common for Churches, when looking out for a minister, to aim at getting a very learned man. Do not understand me to disparage learning. The more learned the better, if he is also wise in the great matter he is employed about. If a minister knows how to win souls, the more learning he has the better. But if he has any other kind of learning, and not this, he will infallibly fail of achieving that which should be the end of his ministry.
4. Want of success in a minister (other things being equal) proves
(a) That he never was called to preach, but has taken it up out of his own head; or
(b) That he was badly educated, and was never taught the very things he needs most to know; or
(c) If he was called to preach, and knows how to do his duty, he is too indolent and too wicked to do it.
5. Those are the best educated ministers who win the most souls.
Ministers are sometimes looked down upon, and called very ignorant, because they do not know the sciences and languages; although they are very far from being ignorant of the great thing for which the ministry is appointed. This is wrong. Learning is important, and always useful. But after all, a minister may know how to win souls to Christ, without great learning; and he has the best education for a minister, who can win the most souls to Christ.
6. There is evidently a great defect in the present mode of educating ministers. This is a SOLEMN FACT, to which the attention of the whole Church should be distinctly called, that the great mass of young ministers who are educated accomplish very little.
When young men come out of the seminaries, are they fit to go into a revival? Look at a place where there has been a revival in progress, and a minister is wanted. Let them send to a theological seminary for a minister.
Will he enter into the work, and sustain it, and carry it on? Seldom. Like David with Saul's armor, he comes in with such a load of theological trumpery, that he knows not what to do. Leave him there for two weeks, and the revival is at an end. The Churches know and feel that the greater part of these young men do not know how to do anything that needs to be done for a revival, and the complaint is made that the young ministers are so far behind the Church. You may send all over the United States, to theological seminaries, and find but few young ministers fitted to carry forward the work. What a state of things!
But instead of this, they are educated for anything else. The grand mistake is this: that the mind is directed too much to irrelevant matters; it is carried over too wide a field, so that attention is diverted from the main thing and the young men get cold in religion. When, therefore, they get through their course, instead of being fitted for their work, they are unfitted for it.